Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:32 am

Hey, I published something! It is a course reader entitled “Japan, China and Pan-Asianism” I did not write much of it, but it does have my name on it. The reason I bring it up is to call attention to Asia-Pacific Journal (formerly Japan Focus.) Over the years they have published a tremendous amount of interesting stuff, in part because they are one of few on-line journals that takes advantage of the form. Most on-line journals are just the same scholarly research articles that you could find in a dead tree journal. Asia Pacific Journal does those, but also lots of other types of things. They have stuff on current events, translations, interviews, historiographical essays etc.  The idea behind their series of course readers was that there was a lot of good stuff in their archive that could be used to teach with. Rather than have people dig through the archive and figure out what they wanted to use they have been asking people to pull together sets of readings around a particular theme. I did the relationship between modern China and Japan as seen through the lens of Pan-Asianism.

For this one I was able to collect a bunch of interesting stuff that APJ had published that you would not find anywhere else. If you are interested in Pan-Asianism the holy grail is Saaler and Szpilman’s Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History. Instead of trying to get your students to read both volumes of that why not have them read APJ’s summary of it1 written by….Saaler and Szpilman. There has been a lot of research in Europe on the impact of the Russo-Japanese War on Japan’s global standing. Instead of having your students learn German why not have them read Gerhard Krebs, “World War Zero? New Literature on the Russo-Japanese War 1904/05,”2  It’s always good to have them read some primary sources so why not have them read a series of letters between Rabindranath Tagore and the Japanese intellectual Yone Noguchi on the meaning of Pan-Asianism?3 Yes, you could summarize the recent work on the Japanese invasion of China, but why not have Diana Lary do it for you instead?4  All this and a lot more! All free!

  1. Sven Saaler and Christopher W. A. Szpilman, “Pan-Asianism as an Ideal of Asian  Identity  and  Solidarity,  1850–Present,”  The  Asia-Pacific  Journal 9.17.1, April 25, 2011. []
  2. The Asia-Pacific Journal 10.21.2, May 21, 2012. []
  3. Zeljko Cipris, “Seduced by Nationalism: Yone Noguchi’s ‘Terrible Mistake’: Debating the China-Japan War With Tagore,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, November 17, 2007. []
  4. Diana Lary, “China and Japan at War: Suffering and Survival, 1937-1945,” The Asia-Pacific Journal 10.48.2, November 29, 2010. []


Confucius does Powerpoint

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:05 pm

 There is an old Chinese story concerning three young men who are too lazy to study. Their father builds them a hut on a mountain figuring that isolation will help them concentrate. It does not work. They meet a divine lady, who wants, of course, to marry them to her three beautiful daughters. She is also willing to give them study help.

The Lady said to the three youths: “What men treat seriously is life; what they desire is honor. Now before a hundred days have been lost to mankind, I shall bring life to you, lords, enduring beyond this world, and position far beyond that of any mortal magnate.” The three youths saluted once more and gave thanks, but were anxious lest their ignorance be a hindrance and their dull wits an obstacle. The Lady said, “Do not be anxious, milords, for this is a simple thing!” Then she enjoined her manager on earth, commanding him to summon K’ung Hsuan-fu (Confucius). In a moment Master K’ung came, equipped with hat and sword. The Lady approached the staircase, and Hsuan-fu presented himself with a respectful salutation. Standing erect, the Lady asked if she might impose a slight task on him, addressing him thus: “My three sons-in-law desire to study. Will you guide them, milord?” Then Hsuan-fu gave commands to the three youths. He showed the chapter titles of the Six Registers (The Six Classics) to them with his finger-and they awoke to an understanding of their overall meaning without missing a single detail, thoroughly conversant with all as if they had always been rehearsing them. Then Hsuan-fu gave thanks, and departed. Now the Lady commanded Chou Shang-fu to show them “The Mystic Woman’s Talisman and Secret Esoterica of the Yellow  Pendants.” The three youths acquired these too without missing anything. She sat and spoke with them again, and found that their studious penetration of all the civil and military arts was now as far-reaching as that of a Heavenly Person. Inspecting each other, the three youths were aware that now their air and poise were balanced and expansive, while their spiritual illumination was uninhibited and buoyant-they were in all respects equipped to become Commanders or Ministers.

 There are a couple of things that struck me here. One is Confucius’ mad Powerpoint skills.

He showed the chapter titles of the Six Registers (The Six Classics) to them with his finger-and they awoke to an understanding of their overall meaning without missing a single detail.

Apparently Confucius can teach someone the Rites Classic just by pointing his finger at the chapter titles. Suck on that Edward Tufte. Also, of course, we have magical learning. Students who have been goofing off all semester are magically transformed into people who know it all, or can at least pass the final. They (or their father) try isolating themselves from distraction (get away from your phone. Go to the library) but it does not work. But then a miracle occurs. My students are of course quite familiar with this idea, since they know that you can learn a lot in just one night of frantic studying. They are also not at all surprised that I, their teacher, once learned a whole semester of geography in one night. They always seem to understand the logic behind the Great Leap Forward, the idea that a red heart can achieve miracles, if you compare it to cramming for an exam.

Sadly, unlink most things on this blog this is not something I will probably ever use to teach with. It comes from Edward H Schafer’s Pacing the Void: Tʻang Approaches to the Stars. ((The lady is in fact a star-lady. Of course the boys end up telling their father about her, as she had told them not to, and she makes them drink something that makes them stupid again.)) As always with his many1 works I feel entirely inadequate to do anything with them in class other than say “cut class next time and go read all his books.”


On Amazon I see

Schafer, Edward H. Pacing the Void: Tʻang Approaches to the Stars. [Warren, Conn.]: Floating World Editions, 2005.

———. Shore of Pearls. [Warren, Conn.]: Floating World Editions, 2010.

———. The Divine Woman: Dragon Ladies and Rain Maidens in Tʻang Literature. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1980.

———. The Vermilion Bird: T’ang Images of the South. Warren, Conn.; Abingdon: Floating World ; Marston [distributor], 2006.

Schafer, Edward Hetzel. The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T’ang Exotics. Berkeley Calif.; London [etc.]: Univ. of California Press, 1985.

  1. often reprinted []


Portrait of the blogger as an old bore

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:20 pm

As I have been asked by a junior faculty member if it is a good idea to join a group blog I thought I would write a bit about why I do this.

I should note that I am a very authoritative source on the topic, as I have been doing this since 2005 and have made over 400 posts, some of them worthwhile. Lots of people blog for a bit and then quit. One thing that has helped is that Frog is (or was) a group blog, so I was not required to attract and keep an audience on my own. Technically you don’t need an audience, as you will see below, but it does help to know someone is listening.

So why do this? I can think of three reasons.

To become famous.

Yes, you, a mild-mannered shoeshine scholar could become an Internet celebrity like Fafblog or the Invisible Adjunct. Or your site could become the a go-to site like China Beat. This was never my goal, which was good, since all glory is fleeting in any case those things are hard to do. It takes a lot of work to build an on-line community, and it involves things like managing a comments section and having a consistent theme and posting regularly and writing well. Sounds like a lot of work to me, and given how quickly sites like that burn out it seems that some people agree.

I have been consciously posting less on contemporary China (the thing that really attracts attention and comment and links) specifically because those topics tend to attract more trollish commenters and, frankly, I usually don’t have much new to say about these things. Plus the more Hot Topic you get the more your blogging pace is dictated by events rather than your own interests. Still, somebody needs to do that and it is an option.

Research and contacts

A blog is a good place to make contacts and think about your research stuff before you publish it. I do some of that here. At least one post from here has been cited in print I have had posts turn into articles and posted about conference papers, which sometimes contain ideas suggested by people coming to the blog. People have contacted me because of the blog, and they have sent me books because of the blog. I do a lot less of this than some people, but you can really expand your public footprint through blogging. Heck, I won a major award! I don’t think having a blog (particularly this one) has hurt my scholarly reputation.1 Of course a lot of people are reluctant to post their ideas since they are not “ready for publication.” Frog in a Well is not the Journal of Asian Studies however. I see it more like hobnobbing at a conference. The things you say don’t need to be exhaustively researched or fully edited here.2


For me the blog is mainly part of my teaching. By that I don’t mean that I refer my students to this blog (as far as I know none of them are aware of it) nor do I see it as some sort of proto-MOOC. Rather it is a place for me to think a bit about things that I come across that I might (or might not) teach or write about in the future. Obviously I could file away a picture or quote or idea I come across and think about it later, but it is better to think about it now and put it in my google-able commonplace book. Other people may get some use out of it, they may suggest something interesting and if nothing else it encourages me to think a bit about whatever it is now, rather than in the long run. If I have not posted for a while I start asking myself what I have been doing with my mind lately. Obviously there are lots of fine answers besides ‘blogging’ but it does encourage you to think and write about what you are thinking. Writing and thinking about the past is what historians do, and if you want a venue that is somewhere in between publishing a monograph and talking to your bathroom mirror a blog is a good one. Obviously you are opening yourself up to criticism, but that is also true when you publish things, teach a class, or open your mouth at a faculty meeting.

This post is an example of what I use the blog for. I told the Junior Faculty Member most of this in person, but this slightly more worked out version may help the JFM, me or someone else. It’s not what I would write if I was publishing an article on academic blogging, but I can always update it if I want. 3

  1. Fill in the blank here as you wish []
  2. I am providing lots of straight lines today, am I not? []
  3. Also, %$#@*& Dropbox ate the post just as I saved it, forcing me to re-write it. I thought I was past those problems, but apparently not. []


Happy birthday Dunhuang Project

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:32 pm

Did you know that this is the 20th anniversary of the International Dunhuang Project? Neither did I. They grow up so quick these international scholarly projects. In honor of the occasion they are posting a lot of things from their collection

They will also let you Sponsor A Sutra. Just as patrons used to get their name attached to a sutra they had copied, you can have your name (or your organization’s name) attached to the digitization of a sutra. They don’t seem to have anything available in my price range right now, but I am definitely going to get some. I think it would make a great Chanukah gift as well.

What interested me most was that they have beefed up their educational section since last time I was there and there is some great stuff. Two that I noted from the Cultural Dialogue on the Silk Road page were

a collection of mudras


Which is neat if you want to talk about the mass production of Buddhist art and the physical dissemination of religion. These look to me a lot like models for someone doing Buddhist paintings or sculptures.


Along the same lines we have a model letter to apologize for getting drunk. As the site points out things like books of model letters or etiquette books really only make sense in a time or place of rapid social change or intercultural contact. Otherwise why bother to write down how to behave in a book? For more advanced students this will also help to show how weird Dunhuang Chinese was. Here is the text, for any of our readers who may need it.

Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was so intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and course language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realized what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame. It was due to a vessel of small capacity being filled for the nonce too full. I humbly trust that you in your wise benevolence will not condemn me for my transgression. Soon I will come to apologize in person, but meanwhile I beg to send this written communication for your kind inspection. Leaving much unsaid, I am yours respectfully.

Picturing the 1911 Revolution

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:37 am

Via the comments1 to this post I see that Oberlin has posted an on-line version of History of China for 1912 in 52 cartoons

These seem to be weekly cartoons published in something called the National Review (not the same as the current American magazine of the same name) Needless to say if you are responsible for coming up with a cartoon on Chinese politics every week there will be some weeks when inspiration does not strike or not much seems to be happening, even the the revolutionary year of 1911. Still, many of them are quite good for teaching with or thinking about.

Jan_13Here, for instance, is a nice one showing the Manchus and Han fighting it out while various foreigners take advantage of the opportunity to grab stuff. One of the standard themes of 1911 is that Chinese elites on all sides wanted to settle the thing quickly to avoid encouraging foreign intervention and this picture, drawn by a foreigner no less, illustrates this pretty well.


  1. from peacay of BibliOdyssey! []


City of big shoulders

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:40 am

So I spent some time at the library going through 圖畫日報 Although it is not a paper that lasted long (1909-1910) there is lots of cool stuff here connected to the it’s mission of exposing China to the world.



One thing that leaped out at me was the picture of Chicago. It’s part of an occasional series on famous places overseas.


Chicago is a city of skyscrapers, the ideal city ” built of  clouds.” (白雲砌成) including the 21 story 商務總會, (commercial association building, maybe the Chicago Stock exchange?) a 13 story 婦奴節用會 (Women’s holiday meeting place? Could this be Marshall Fields?) and an 11-story 大妓院 (da ji yuan) with 600 rooms. 大妓院 would, I think, mean a brothel. I’m guessing that this is a reference to Palmer House or one of the other big downtown hotels which were, as we all know, the haunts of  “adventuresses” in accounts of the city of sin.


Since I heard about Chicago as the first city of skyscrapers while growing up in Chicagoland I found this interesting. The illustration is clearly not taken from pictures of the city, but it is also different from the generic pictures of foreign cities you get at this point. It is sort of a occidentalist picture. Chinoiserie seems to involve pulling apart elements of Chinese design and gluing them back together in ways that would look really odd to a Chinese person (compare your standard “westerner trying to do fake calligraphy” to Book From the Sky) and the same thing seems to be going on in this picture.



How can students relate to Asia?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:55 pm

Miriam Burstein has a typically good post up on her frustrations in dealing with students who want to ‘relate to’ The Tempest. She was frustrated by this because she can think of other ways to think about a piece of literature besides finding yourself in it.

 Take, for example, “I relate to George Eliot,” or  “my life resembles George Eliot’s.”  What does that mean? That you have a long term liaison with a man who cannot divorce his wife? That you are a successful intellectual with no “respectable” female friends, a moral arbiter considered immoral by much of the genteel world at large? That you write great novels? That you’re actually kind of conservative? That you read everything in sight? All of the above? What?  Or have you imagined a relation or resemblance into being, a spark of connection that has something, perhaps, to do with Eliot, but just as much with what you needed to find in Eliot? And if you grant that, then perhaps you can grant that there are other ways of thinking about one’s “relation” to a work or author that do not rely on mental mirrors in order to work?

For many academics, much of the “passion” is about the non-resemblance, the non-relation.

As someone who teaches about far-away places I relate to this. Why should my students care about people who are not like them, who they don’t automatically ‘relate’ to? Francis Fitzgerald talks about the trend in American history teacher-ing to try to ground teaching in things that are close to the students, rather than in stories about Far Horizons and different people.

..the now traditional social-studies curriculum..began in the first grade with the study of the home and worked outward in concentric -indeed, Confucian-circles to the community, the state, the nation and the world.1

As it happens, I was at the center of this as a youngster. Parts of my early education were dominated by the people who seemed convinced I was only interested in things that directly connected to me and my town. Township government. Zoning laws. School board meetings. No Vikings or camel caravans or Roman orators. Those would bore me. I would not relate to them. Many years later I was on a train from Shanghai to Suzhou and an American businessman and his Chinese translator sat down next to me. Since in those days a white2 skin counted as an introduction he introduced himself and it turned out he came from my hometown. He quickly launched into a rant about the corruption and double-dealing of the local zoning board. I remember thinking that I had literally gone to the other end of the earth to avoid people who talked about zoning laws in my hometown, and they had apparently tracked me down.

Fitzgerald also talks about Jerome S. Bruner’s controversial MACOS program, which was quite more my style.

Children, Bruner argued, were not interested only in what was close to home or in the information that would be of practical use to them in later life. What attracted them was myth and drama.

MACOS focused on the Netsilik Eskimos specifically because they were remote from the experience of most American schoolchildren. I think I got some of that too. I remember a game we did where I was supposed to be the father of an Eskimo family and I was given a string that connected me to all the other people who were involved in my life, from family and friends to the Canadian company that made my fishhooks to the Saudis who made gas for my outboard. I still remember that fistful of strings (which is good work after so many years) and I enjoyed the lesson and think I learned from it.

Part of the joy of finishing your dissertation is that you can think about things that are not directly connected to your research. I remember staying up all night with a copy of Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods3 , entranced by the introduction’s ringing defense of useless knowledge and loving the fact that there was no way I could use any of this stuff with my World History students. Part of the joy of having a blog is that it encourages you to think about things that don’t even relate to your teaching.

But not all students are like me. This is good thing to remember, since professors tend to think we can understand our students by resurrecting our past memories. This does not work very well first because it was a different age (we had real music back then, not noise) and second because we were always a little odd even as undergraduates. One of the things I remember best from my undergraduate days was the time my ancient Greek history professor used an entire three-hour night class to read through huge chunks of Hesiod’s Works and Days (with his own explanations interspersed) to give us a feel for what the yearly life-cycle of a Greek farmer was like. I loved it, one of the handful of really transcendent learning experiences I have had in a classroom. However, the consensus during our 10-minute break was that he was planning on taking attendance at the end and docking whoever had left a bundle of points, since why else would he spend so much time talking about something so boooooooring?

So how to relate to those students who are different from me? How do you get them to share your passion for the strange? Part of it is just tossing a lot of stuff out there. Some kids really do like economic history with lots of tables. Part of it is trying to include lots of quotes and pictures that will humanize (i.e. make understandable) the people and topics we are dealing with. Part of it is picking out universal themes. Stories of young people growing up should work for anyone. Part of it is connecting it to things in Modern China, which is where you can make money. I don’t really care for the Just So Stories feel of linking everything to the present. “So, kids, that’s why Chairman Mao always slept with his head facing south.”4 You can also link things to stuff they know in the U.S.A. I feel dirty all over every time I tell students that the Laozi’s Dao is kind of like the Force in Star Wars, but it does seem to get a reaction. Part of it is using my own enthusiasm to fill up the void left by a lack of interest in an esoteric topic.5 I get quite manic when I am explaining basic Marxist theory in the China class. Part of it is trying to restrain my urge to jump up and down on a desk and yell like Miriam Burstein. And part of it is accepting that education is what people take out of it, and if students don’t want to take some of this stuff home with them they don’t have to.


What do you do?



  1. p.182. I think this may be the only allusion to the Great Learning I have seen in discussions of American education []
  2. or black []
  3. Bottéro, Jean. Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992 []
  4. Mao counts as the present. All students come in knowing the names of two Chinese people, Mao and Confucius. For a bit we had Yao Ming, but he is fading. []
  5. I always think that a classroom needs a certain amount of enthusiasm, and if they don’t want to provide it I can. Yang Zhu would say I was wrong here, I suppose. []


China in Cartoons II

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:42 am

The second volume of Understanding China Through Comics is out.1 I ‘reviewed‘ the first volume and concluded that Jing Liu is no Larry Gonick, but it’s not bad. My short review of the new volume is that he is still no Larry Gonick, but this volume is even better than the first one, and you should certainly buy it.

The art has many of the same problems as the first volume, but is better in general. There are still too many places where what is going on in the story is not represented graphically. So, the struggle between Shu, Wu and Wei is represented, in part, by three guys getting ready to fight on a map.


Obviously a lot of history is hard to represent well in pictures, but that’s the whole point of being a cartoonist, that you are better at this then we are. Although there are some clunkers in here there are also some quite serviceable bits, like this one on corruption.


A better one on the Three Kingdoms, showing backstabbing and armies being destroyed


And even some quite good ones, like this on street fighting in Chang-an, which looks like it might have been inspired by a WWII movie but at least gives you a nice feeling of tension.



  1. Been out for a while, actually []


Extra syllabus blogging -Guan Yu meets Qiu Jin on the internet

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:12 am

Bonus syllabus blogging!1 Since I have received some really good advice about how to teach my classes from yunz, I thought I would try again. This is not a class I am actually going to teach next semester, or ever. It is a model syllabus for teaching a dual level (graduate/undergraduate) course that will be taught on line. We need a sample syllabus to get the on-line approval from the university.2 I tried to come up with something that would appeal to a broad range of students and work well as an on-line class. Any suggestions on the viability of the class or the on-line elements would be welcome. I was thinking of doing it mainly as a reading/discussion type class with the discussion taking place in a threaded discussion group.

History 481/581

Heroism and History in China


From the assassin Jing Ke to the Monkey King (who defeated the enemies of the Buddha with an iron rod) to the Woman Knight of Mirror Lake (pictured above) to the model Communist Lei Feng Chinese history has been full of heroes. Emulating the great people of the past was the foundation of Confucian self-cultivation, and providing models to be emulated or avoided was one of the main themes of Chinese literature and historiography. In this class we will be looking at how scholars used biography and autobiography in creating Chinese history and how ordinary Chinese used these stories of heroic men and women to understand their society.


  1. What did you do in a past life to deserve this? []
  2. This needs a good deal of work before I actually teach it, but for a model syllabus like this I don’t need too much detail. []

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